Malaysia is racing against time to fly the bodies of victims of the MH17 crash back to their families before next week's Hari Raya holiday, and has stepped up calls for an international probe into the downing of the Malaysia Airlines (MAS) jetliner with 298 on board.
In a parliamentary speech yesterday, Prime Minister Najib Razak, who struck a secret deal to win the release of the remains and the plane's black boxes from Ukrainian separatists, said the bodies of 282 passengers would be flown to Amsterdam.
The location of the other 16 bodies remained unclear and reports suggested that some could still be at the crash site.
Datuk Seri Najib said the remains of the Malaysian nationals would be flown home as soon as forensic investigations were completed. The crash killed 43 Malaysians, including two infants.
"I am trying my best as I have promised the families that if possible, by the Syawal (the first day of Hari Raya celebrations), the remains will be laid to rest," said Mr Najib, whose step-grandmother was on the flight. "Only then, the families may find peace."
It is customary for Muslims to visit the graves of their loved ones on the first day of the Hari Raya, which is on Monday.
Recounting his handling of the MH17 crash, Mr Najib, who celebrated his 61st birthday yesterday, said he received a call at 11pm on July 17 from the MAS chairman. After a briefing by the airline at Kuala Lumpur International Airport, he began communicating with other world leaders, including US President Barack Obama, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, on the best way to respond to the crisis.
Mr Najib gave no new details about the secret deal he struck with the Ukrainian separatists except to say that it helped "prevent further damage" to the aircraft.
Opposition lawmakers said the deal "courted controversy" but otherwise backed Mr Najib's move. Said opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim: "There is just no easy or other way."
This article was first published on July 24, 2014.
Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.